Bourbon dinner with the Pilgrims

Bourbon and Banter, a group of bourbon enthusiasts based in St. Louis, Mo., made a pilgrimage to Kentucky over the weekend. They visited several distilleries from a base in Louisville, and I joined them Friday for a three-course dinner at Bourbons Bistro on Frankfort Avenue.

Also joining us was Chris Fletcher (below right with Patrick Garrett, founder of Bourbon and Banter), lead chemist for Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Ky., who took us through a tasting of four of his distillery’s brands – W.L. Weller, Buffalo Trace, Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year Old and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve.

Chris pretty much grew up in the distilling business; his grandfather was once master distiller at Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tenn. Chris worked there for a time, too, and also for Brown-Forman before signing on with Buffalo Trace, where he’s in charge of “the juice.”

I had tasted three of these brands many times before, but despite my familiarity with them I still learned something: Buffalo Trace is never aged less than eight years, even though there is no age statement on the bottle. That’s somewhat unusual, Chris told us; most bourbons that don’t carry an age statement are around four years old, the minimum at which a straight bourbon no longer has to declare its age.

The one I hadn’t tasted, Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year Old, surprised me. This brand has been around for decades and it’s generally priced around $18, and I guess the bourbon snob in me figured it couldn’t be all that great. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It had a nose rich with dark fruit, and that jammy characteristic was present on the tongue as well, along with some smokiness and some spice from its high-rye mash bill. My tablemates all commented on its silky mouthfeel and smooth finish. I’ll be picking up a bottle for my home collection. One note of caution if you plan to do the same: Make sure you select the 10 Year, and not the Ancient Age 10 Star, which is a 6-year-old bourbon.

It was great to meet Chris and the Bourbon Pilgrims and to reaffirm that when it comes to bourbon, I still have things to learn.

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The Bourbon Babe